The Great City and the Holy

John is a binary thinker. The apostle thinks and writes in contrasts. God is light, and in him is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness (1 John 2:9). No lie is of the truth (1 John 2:21). Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil (1 John 3:7-8). By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother (1 John 3:10). Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth (1 John 3:18). If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen (1 John 4:20). John habitually expresses himself in contrasts of light and darkness; love and hate; life and death; sin and righteousness.

In Revelation, contrast gives way to conflict. The Apocalypse is an unveiling of a conflict stretching from when the morning stars sang for joy until that great day when night will be no more. The Dragon savages a Lamb only to find a Lion. The Lamb who roars and Dragon who spews are each fighting for girl. The Lamb protects his bride; the Dragon pimps his harlot. They each battle for their kingdom. In John’s terminology, they each have their city.

The Dragon has a Great City. The Great City is strong in power. All other kingdoms of earth bow to its authority (Rev. 17:18). The Great City is rich in possessions. The only thing approaching the power of its strength is the intoxication of its wealth. The City controls so much wealth that it controls the very souls of mankind (Rev. 18:12-13). The City is so wealthy, that it has the freedom to determine who else will be wealthy and who will be poor (Rev. 18:19). The City of the Dragon is the incomparable pride of the earth (Rev. 18:18). Whether it is London yesterday; or Washington D.C. today; or Beijing tomorrow, its name is one: Babylon the Great. The power will be overpowered. The luxury will be spoiled. The light will be extinguished. The Great City building itself on oppression and painting itself with blood will be “no more” (Rev. 18:21-24).

The Lamb has a Holy City. The Holy City is rich for what it does not have: no death, no mourning, no crying, no pain, nothing unclean or detestable, nothing false (Revelation 21:2-4, 27). Forever. The Holy City is glorious in splendor not for what is there, but for who is there. God dwells with man (Rev. 21:3). We will see his face (Rev. 22:3-4). After the former things have passed away, the Holy City will stand forever and ever (21:4; 22:5).

The resolution of this conflict awaits its great cataclysmic ending. But the conflict is ongoing. It is the conflict I acutely feel as a pilgrim in America. Which city will I yield my allegiance to? Which city will I orient my life toward? The Great?

Or the Holy?

A review of Charles Ryrie “Why I am a Pretribulation Rapturist” from Isael My Glory. Part 2: Does 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4 teach the Pretribulation Rapture?

After discussing “Who are Raptured?” Ryrie asks the question over which there is the most debate, “When is the Rapture?” Whether intentional or not, Ryrie seems to mock the posttribulation “timeline” of saints being raptured to meet Christ in the air only to continue with Christ back to earth. Ryrie’s apparent criticism of is unfortunate since the word “meet” in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 is used in only used in Matthew 25:1-10 and Acts 28:14-16 in exactly the sort of way that Ryrie seems to poke fun at: a group of people come leave their location to meet someone then escort that person to his intended destination.

Far more important to the discussion is Ryrie’s treatment of 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4. Ryrie’s treatment of this passage has two flaws. First, Ryrie never defines what he believes the “Day of the Lord” is. From his discussion, it appears that Ryrie associates the day entire seven year tribulation period with the Day of the Lord. Whether or not this is true, Ryrie never demonstrates from the text that the rapture must precede the Day of the Lord. Why not? Because the text states the opposite position of Ryrie: which points to the greatest problem with Ryrie’s treatment of this passage.

To make 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4 teach the pretribulation rapture, Ryrie completely ignores a portion of the text that contradicts his position. Below is presented the text as given by Ryrie and then as given in the ESV.

 

Ryrie

ESV

We ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by [a] spirit or by [a] word or by [a] letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.

 

Ryrie omits the first several phrases of Paul’s thought. As Ryrie presents the text, there is really nothing about the rapture at all in the passage. As Paul presents the test the rapture is plainly mentioned: “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him.” So why does Ryrie exclude Paul’s mention of the rapture when Ryrie is attempting to determine the time of the Rapture? This seems counter-productive.

Perhaps Ryrie omits the first phrases of this passage because they completely undermine the pretribulation rapture position. If the Day of the Lord refers to the seven-year tribulation, and if the Thessalonians believed the rapture occurred before the tribulation, Paul’s entire discussion is superfluous. The Thessalonians would have known the Day of the Lord had not come yet because they had not been raptured!

As the text stands, however, Paul disagrees with Ryrie in a few details. First, Paul includes the coming of Christ and our gathering together to him in the Day of the Lord. As unique and horrendous as the events of the tribulation will be, Paul marks the Day of the Lord off as something even greater. This aspect of the Day of the Lord including the coming of the Lord to earth and the simultaneous gathering of the elect is will attributed in the Old Testament (Coming- Joel 3:16; Hab. 3:16; Zech. 14:4; Mal. 3:2; Gathering- Isa. 11:11-12, 16; 27:13; Mic. 4:6-7; Zeph. 3:18, 19, 20). Secondly, Paul says that this Day which includes the coming of Christ and our gathering together to him occurs after the revelation of Antichrist not before. Ryrie is right, the Day of the Lord occurs after the Antichrist’s revelation. But by leaving out Paul’s mention of Christ’s coming and our gathering to him, Ryrie ignores the most pertinent information for the discussion. As one commentator notes, “The present verse [2 Thess. 2:1] brings to grief the popular notion that the rapture of the church will somehow take place before the tribulation.”[1]

For as systematic as it presents to be, the pretribulation rapture is built upon an atomistic treatment of Scripture. It is no coincidence that one of C.I. Scofield’s works is “Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth.” Dispensationalism and the pretrib rapture position certainly excel in dividing the Scripture. But as Ryrie’s mishandling of just four verses demonstrates, the pretribulation rapture cannot stand up to a more holistic reading of Scripture.


[1] Gene L. Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2002), 301.

A review of Charles Ryrie “Why I am a Pretribulation Rapturist” from Isael My Glory. Part 1: Is this really what the posttribulation rapture position believes?

The January/February issue of Israel My Glory includes an article by noted theologian Charles Ryrie entitled “Why I am a Pretribulation Rapturist.”  I cut my teeth on a Ryrie study Bible: it is what accompanied me through Bible college. At said college, his Basic Theology was the text for theology classes. I profit from his sober and careful commentary on Revelation whenever I consult it. So what follows is not the result of any personal animosities or prejudices, but merely comes from a desire of furthering understanding of Scripture.

To begin his article Ryrie offers brief definitions of the various rapture positions. For the posttribulation rapture position Ryrie writes, “Posttrib has the church living through the entire Tribulation and enduring many of God’s judgments.” Ryrie is a capable and responsible theologian; and contributing to Israel My Glory certainly does not require the same amount of rigor as contributing to a theological journal does; but such a definition of the posttribulation rapture position is neither fair nor accurate. One might just as well state that a pretribulation rapturist believes Christians will never face any troubles in life. Neither this hypothetical definition of the pretrib position, nor Ryrie’s proposed definition of the posttrib position represents the truth.[1]

Whether intentional or not, Ryrie’s definition poisons the well and erects a straw man that is easily thrashed. What Christian wants to believe that he will experience any, let alone “many,” of God’s judgments? The Scripture clearly and repeatedly relieves believers of such worries. The promise of being kept from God’s wrath is one that all believers should hold (John 5:24; Rom. 5:9; 1 Thess. 1:10). When the posttribulation position is defined in such terms, it is not too difficult to assert a lack of Scriptural support.

Toward the conclusion of the article, Ryrie offers more precise language: “Posttrib rapturists think they’re going to live through the Tribulation. They say the phrase I will keep you means God will protect the Christians as He protected Israel in Egypt.”

This is a much more accurate picture of the posttrib rapture position. While the experience of the Israelites in Egypt is probably the best illustration, it is certainly not the only illustration of the kind of existence and protection envisioned by those who believe the rapture will follow the Tribulation. Mention could also be made of Noah who was saved through the flood, not from it; of Job who was not saved through disaster and illness, not saved from it; of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who were saved through the fire, not from it; of Daniel who was saved through the lion’s den, not from it; and preeminently of Christ who was saved through the crucifixion, not from it. One might say that these are special examples of God’s providence that are not meant to exemplify God’s normal dealings with his people. But we would do well to remember the promise of Isaiah 43:2, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” Is it stretching the data of Scripture and history to assert that God does not keep his children from trouble but keeps them through it?

Ryrie seeks to gain more ground in this area by stating, “There will be earthquakes, tsunamis, and water turning to blood. People in the Tribulation will turn on a faucet and get blood. If they can find water, it will be bitter. It seems highly unlikely that an earthquake or other disaster that affects millions will not touch Joe and Sarah Christian who live in the same area as everyone else.”

First of all, on a very practical level, such deliverance is not necessarily as far-fetched as Ryrie makes it out to be. We know that Antichrist will make war with the saints and that they will have no way to buy and sell in the open market. What is likely to happen in such a situation? More than likely some form of ghetto-ization. While it might seem counter-intuitive for believers to gather together thereby making them an easier target, Revelation 12:6 seems to present just such an occurrence. Ryrie mentions that during the plagues the Israelites lived in Goshen which made it more possible for corporate protection. Why would saints during the Tribulation not seek the increased safety and provision of communal or corporate life? Ryrie simply assumes that “Joe and Sarah Christian” will be living with everyone else. I do not see that as necessarily, or even as likely, true.

Second, is there not a difference between suffering from affects of judgments and suffering the judgments themselves? For thousands of years believers have suffered and died because of God’s judgment on sin. For thousands of years believers have lived and died because of God’s judgment on sin even as they are promised that their sins have been fully judged in Christ and that death no longer has dominion over them.

Third, Ryrie wants to paint a picture of complete global chaos and indeed in many ways it will be. But careful attention to the details of Revelation reveals a constant refrain in the series of judgments: they are targeted on Antichrist and his followers:

  • Rev 9:4  [The locusts] were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green plant or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads.
  • Rev 16:2  So the first angel went and poured out his bowl on the earth, and harmful and painful sores came upon the people who bore the mark of the beast and worshiped its image.
  • Revelation 16:5-6  And I heard the angel in charge of the waters say, “Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was, for you brought these judgments. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink. It is what they deserve!”
  • Rev 16:10-11  The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in anguish and cursed the God of heaven for their pain and sores. They did not repent of their deeds.[2]

As far as I know, no responsible posttribulation rapturist teaches that believers will suffer God’s judgment. By asserting the contrary Ryrie may score some points with the home team, but he does nothing to further meaningful dialogue between those who teach a different rapture position.

Pretribulationists and posttribulationists alike agree that there will be believers, or saints, of some sort on earth during the tribulation.[3] Let us lay aside whether they are “the Church” or “Tribulation saints.” Ryrie’s position does nothing to answer how those people experience the protective provision of God. The pretribulation rapture position teaches that the church will not be on earth during the Tribulation because the church is promised deliverance from God’s wrath. Yet it also must teach that there are believers of some sort on the earth during the Tribulation and that those believers will in some way endure God’s wrath.

Ryrie rightly teaches that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation. Whoever the saints are on earth during the tribulation one thing is clear: they must be saved by faith in Jesus Christ. This causes at least two problems for the pretrib position. First, if so called “Tribulation saints” who believe in Jesus Christ for their salvation experience God’s protective provision during the Tribulation, why couldn’t the same grace be given to any and every saint? Second, how can someone who trusts in Jesus Christ for his salvation not be considered a member of Christ’s body, the church?


[1] As I look at the article in the magazine, the five definitions are offered apart from the main text of the article within a text box inside of a full page picture. I suppose it is possible that Charles Ryrie is not even responsible for the definitions, but that they were included by the editors of the magazine. In the end, however, my dispute is with the statement more than with who said it.

[2] To this list could be added the judgments that have the same result of this 5th bowl judgment: i.e. those who survive do not repent thus specifying that God’s enemies were the ones who experienced judgment (Rev. 9:20-21; 16:9).

[3] The following references from Revelation all indicate that there will be believers of some sort on earth during the Tribulation: Rev. 6:9-11; 7:2-3; 8:3-5; 9:4; 13:7, 10; 14:12-13; 16:5-6; 17:6; 18:24. More often than not, the word used for these people is “saints”: the standard New Testament word for believers in Jesus Christ.

Rob Bell Love Wins Plagiarism!!!

There, while they stood in a green wood
And marvelled still on Ill and Good,
Came suddenly Minister Mind.
‘In the heart of sin doth hell begin:
’Tis not below, ’tis not above,
It lieth within, it lieth within:’
(‘Where?’ quoth Love)

‘I saw a man sit by a corse;
Hell’s in the murderer’s breast: remorse!
Thus clamored his mind to his mind:
Not fleshly dole is the sinner’s goal,
Hell’s not below, nor yet above,
’Tis fixed in the ever-damned soul—’
‘Fixed?’ quoth Love—

These two stanza’s are from Sidney Lanier’s poem, How Love Looked For Hell. As I read the poem it seems to be a pretty vanilla late 19th century work, technically sound, lyrically overwrought, philosophically shallow. Like Bell in Love Wins, Lanier wants his readers to believe that wherever Love is, hell cannot be.

Rob Bell has not said anything new. Nor has he said anything profound. We can only hope his teaching meets the same fate as Lanier’s poetry- destined to be relegated in forgotten books.

Why Every Self-Respecting Premillennialist (and Amillennialist) should listen to Tom Schriener’s sermon on Revelation 20 and The Millennium

Anyone involved in the Millennial debate–even if the debate is only internal!–should listen to Tom Schreiner’s sermon on Revelation 20 entitled The Millennium. Everyone should listen to it because it is a model of gracious interaction with opposing viewpoints.  Whatever your position on eschatology you will profit from Schriener’s approach in his presentation.  Exemplary.

Premillennialists should listen to it not just because of how he teaches, but what he teaches.  I do not recall if Schreiner ever came right out and said so, but he dealt well with one of the major structural arguments made by Amillennialists: that Rev. 20 is a recapitulation of Rev. 12 (See, for example, A Case for Amillennialism by Kim Riddlebarger).  While it seems that Schreiner does believe that the 3 series of of judgments have elements of recapitulation (and I think he is right to do so), he does a wonderful job of showing from the text of Revelation 20 elements that are contradictory to a recapitulation of Revelation 12.

Premillennialists should compare this to MacArthur’s somewhat infamous salvo at the Shepherd’s Conference on Premillinnialism.  Schriener’s sermon is free from the embarrasing historical, logical, and theological errors that appear  in MacArthur’s sermon.  (See Riddlebarger for a measured response from an Amillennialist.)

Amillennialists have good reasons for holding the position they do.  Biblical reasons and biblical support.  Schriener recognizes this, but believes there are more compelling reasons to be a Premillennialist.

HT:Ben Wright